Social activities help dementia patients stay sharp, avoid depression

SHEFFIELD, England — Approximately 6 million people in the U.S. are suffering from dementia, as well 50 million people worldwide. There is currently no cure for the degenerative condition and medical treatments often have side effects such as vomiting, loss of appetite, and muscle pains. Now, researchers say patients can greatly benefit from a type of treatment that doesn’t come with such downsides and helps their brain avoid additional decline.

A new study suggests that mixing with other people helps dementia patients stay sharp and fend off depression. Scientists say the type of treatment known as “cognitive stimulation” could make living with dementia easier for hundreds of thousands of people.

“Dementia is one of the biggest global challenges that we face,” says senior author Dr. Claudia von Bastian, of the University of Sheffield, in a statement. “Our research highlights that cognitive stimulation can be a safe, relatively cheap, and accessible treatment to help reduce some of the core symptoms of dementia and may even alleviate symptoms of depression.”

The researchers analyzed the use of cognitive stimulation as an effective treatment for people with dementia. They found that getting patients involved in social and group activities helped combat depression and boost global cognition.

Global cognition refers to five types of brain function: attention, memory, verbal fluency, language, and awareness. “It’s great that governments now recognize the importance for people to live well with dementia. We’ve seen far more energy and resources put into developing initiatives to support this, such as cognitive stimulation, which is now used widely across the world,” notes co-author Dr. Ben Hicks, of Brighton and Sussex Medical School.

“We still need to learn more about the key ingredients of cognitive stimulation which lead to these benefits and how they influence the progression of dementia. However, the absence of negative side-effects and the low costs of this treatment means the benefits are clear,” adds Dr. von Bastian.

More research is needed to determine whether cognitive stimulation and other non-pharmaceutical treatments could help the growing number of people who suffer from dementia.

 “Our research is the first to comprehensively interrogate the evidence base for its effectiveness, using the most up-to-date statistical techniques. While early signs are positive, there’s an urgent need to improve the rigor of evaluative research and better assess the long-term benefits of cognitive stimulation. People with dementia need effective treatments, and, as a research community, this is what we must deliver,” added Dr. Hicks.

South West News Service writer Tom Campbell contributed to this report.